Judging a Widow? Keep Your Effing Opinions to Yourself

I’m not sure whether curse words in the title are frowned upon.

I think the point is clear.  You can keep your judgement, your disapproving looks, and your obvious vaguebook insults to yourself.

We don’t need it.

I shouldn’t have to say this.  It should go without saying.  Don’t harass a widow about how she is handling her widowhood. It doesn’t go without saying, however.  It has to be said.  Many people apparently do not have the sense to know this on their own.  I have spoken with other widows my age, and have read blogs and articles written by others, and it seems everyone has at least one person in their life who has decided they are the authority on grieving and on widowhood, and is quick to point out – emphatically – how we are doing it incorrectly.

It’s often someone we care about, or that our husbands cared about.

It’s so deeply hurtful.

Widow-shamers come in two basic camps.

Actually, technically there is a third camp, I will mention only briefly because they are well-intentioned.  We all have sweet, caring people in our lives who hate to see us hurt and want to help ‘fix’ it.  They want us to snap out of it.  They want us to join the world.  Sometimes they want us to start dating.  To these people I say we thank you for your love and support, but please understand that to try to fix us implies there is something wrong.  There is nothing wrong with being sad when your spouse dies.  We have to be sad.  We have to be sad in order to learn how to live with our sadness.  Please stop trying to abbreviate the process.  We need it.

The title of this blog is aimed at the other two types of judges.  One type feels that the widow’s handling of things has somehow harmed them personally.  The other type feels she is not being widow-y enough and is disrespecting the dead.

Here’s the thing.  Please understand this.

MY GRIEF IS NOT A PERFORMANCE I AM PUTTING ON FOR YOU OR FOR ANYONE ELSE.

Also . . .

IT IS NOT MY JOB TO FULFILL YOUR IMAGE OF WHAT A GRIEVING WIDOW SHOULD BE.

It was a revelation to me that people would take personal issue with how a woman carries out the final wishes of her husband.  Personally, I have had several people pointedly mention that they feel they didn’t get closure (whatever that means) because I cremated the body before anyone saw him.  I have not been directly attacked, but on two separate occasions, two different people pointed out that they keep thinking they will see Trey or get a call from him.  Apparently this is because I did not have a viewing at the memorial.  It was implied that I have an easier time of accepting his death because I saw his body, and that I robbed them of this comfort.

You know what?  I saw the body.  It’s not that awesome of an experience.  I wouldn’t recommend it.  At all.

Did seeing his body make it easier for me to accept his death than if I had not?  Perhaps.  I’ve never been on the other side of that coin so I do not know if I experienced some benefit from having witnessed it with my own eyes.

I can say this.  I saw him dead.  I saw how the blood had pooled in his extremities.  I performed cpr.  I wept into his cold shoulder, stroked his cold forehead.  It is now eight months later.  Eight months I have been living in the house we shared, his absence a constant presence.  Still, I often expect to see him come down the stairs.  If that is not enough to hammer it home that he is gone, I doubt that your seeing him in a casket would help you.  We each need to find our own ways to peace.  I will help where I can, but not at the expense of what I need, what my husband wanted, or what our kids need.

I also, unfortunately, had a falling out with someone very close to us.  You may have seen my post about the viking funeral at which I scattered my husband’s ashes in the ocean.  I will not get into the details here, but will say that there was a misunderstanding where a dear friend of ours was legitimately hurt when he learned I had done the viking funeral with just the kids and did not include him or any other family members.  I thought everyone had understood my intentions, but he did not and he was hurt.  I understand his pain and feel sorry for the misunderstanding that caused it, but I will not apologize for handling the scattering how I did.  I did not do it this way to hurt him or anyone else, but because this is what my kids and I needed.  The real tragedy for me is that this friend does not understand I was doing what I needed, and instead felt I deliberately misled him about my intentions.  He said some hurtful things, I responded harshly, we parted ways and now I no longer have what had been a major source of support.

The final arrangements are deeply personal and specific to each circumstance.  I could not imagine having a viewing, with Trey all waxed and painted.  It would have been awful for me to see him that way.  It would have been awful for the kids.  They also had unfortunately already seen his body.  They didn’t need to see any more of that.  Furthermore, he specifically did not want that.  He told everyone he knew and wrote in his will that he wanted to be cremated in the cheapest way possible.  He didn’t want funereal expenses to cut into the money that could go to supporting his family after his passing.  He also would have found it humiliating to be laid out that way.  I handled the cremation, memorial, and scattering exactly how he would have wanted it, and how was best for our family.  None of it was easy.  None of it.  So unless your opinion is, “Wow, I can’t believe you were able to handle all of that while dealing with your grief.  I am astounded by you.  If you need anything, I am here.  You did exactly right by him,” you can just keep your fucking opinion to yourself.

If it were just about me and my experiences, however, I wouldn’t even write this post.  I’m not trying to put a lot of anger out there, or self righteousness.

The thing is, it’s not just me.  I have a friend who is four months widowed and has not yet had her husband’s memorial.  She is catching the same kind of flack as I did for having a cremation instead of a viewing, and family members are actually yelling at her for not hosting a memorial yet.  She has stated that they can hold a memorial if they want, whatever they need to do.  But she is not ready yet, financially or emotionally.  Still they tell her it is just not right.

I know another woman who did have a viewing but did not dress her husband in a suit.  Guess what?  People were upset.  I know a widow who had upbeat music playing and encouraged everyone to wear bright colors.  Most people were on board but, again, there were people who were offended.

We do not mean to offend.  We are doing what we need.  I’m not telling you to not be offended.  I’m telling you to keep that shit to yourself.  Telling us won’t change things, and will just make us feel worse.  As if that were possible.

Now I come to the worst of the worst — those who proclaim loudly, to our faces or behind our backs, that we do not appear to be mourning or that we are moving on too quickly or some otherwise judgy notion that comes down to the idea that they don’t believe we are really grieving.

Shut the FUCK UP!

Widowhood doesn’t look like weeping in a dark room hidden under a black veil.

Do you want to see widowhood?  Come with me for a day.  Widowhood means making breakfast and driving the kids to school, singing along with the radio, getting haircuts and doing laundry and celebrating holidays and going to the zoo and laughing and living and loving those around you.  It also looks like crying at the sink, crying in the car, staring at the wall, comfort eating too much junk food, not eating at all, fits of terror that you will lose someone else, too.  And, yes, widowhood can look like a vacation to Hawaii, or Cozumel.  I have two widow friends who have taken such holidays.  They both have caught SO MUCH SHIT for “partying it up” while everyone else mourns the loss of their husbands.

Imagine this.

Your husband dies.  You now spend every day in the home you bought together.  You cook every meal (every single meal, because there is nobody else to cook) at the oven in which you baked cookies as a family.  You keep up with the daily routine: cooking, cleaning, homework, bills, work.  You make sure you don’t run out of toilet paper or shampoo.  You make sure the kids get to bed at a reasonable time.  You wake up every morning.  You push forward every day, taking care of your family and yourself.

Now imagine you have an opportunity to leave all of that behind for a few days.  For a week, someone else will do all of the cooking, and all of the cleaning.  You will be in a new place, somewhere that isn’t constantly assaulting you with memories.  You will be where nobody knows you, where you will not have to apologize for your emotions, where nobody knew your husband.  You will have no obligations, just for a few days.

You can heal.  You can be sad when you need to and laugh when you need to and eat when you want to and sleep as much as you can.  You can call the memories when you want, and sob yourself to sleep.  You can also go out and laugh to cleanse your soul.  It’s not a woman partying her buns off because she’s newly single.  It’s a woman who needs a safe place to focus on her own pain, her own life, and begin healing.

Not that you deserve an explanation.  But there it is.

Even if a widow is not able to take a vacation, you might see a lot of social activity suddenly hit her feed.  You should be glad that she is trying to find herself, that she is reaching out to friends and engaging in activities to keep her from growing stagnant at home alone.  If your response instead is, “She shouldn’t be out having all of that fun.  She’s supposed to be in mourning,” well, again, you can keep your fucking opinions to yourself.

I used to sit at home every night, with my husband who loved me.  We would rent Netflix and share some scotch.  We would watch The Walking Dead and Supernatural and we would play Cards Against Humanity.  But he is gone now.  I can’t sit by myself and watch TV every night.  I’d like to.  I’m a homebody.  But it is not good for me to stay home all of the time, and it is not good for my kids to see me staying home all of the time.  It is not good for the kids to stay home all of the time.

So, yes, you will see on my feed that I am going to movies and to game nights, that the kids and I are going to soccer games and state fairs. We are not trying to forget about Trey.  We are honoring him by enjoying and making the most of the life he no longer shares with us.

I know women who started dating after the first six months, and women who are not dating five years later.  I know women who got rid of their husband’s belongings, and women who kept most of them.  I know women who removed their rings the first day, and women who wore them for years.

All of these women were criticized by someone in their lives who felt they were not doing the right thing.

There is no right thing.  There is only what the widow feels in her heart is the NECESSARY thing.  We are doing the best we can.  We don’t need the additional stress of trying to please you.

#MeToo and the Recently Widowed

I’m not going to share my own metoo stories.  Suffice it to say I have them, as does almost every woman everywhere.

What I would like to discuss is a revelation I was in the midst of having when the metoo movement started.

Jesus, it’s scary out there for single women.

It’s scary enough for married women.  I always check my backseat before opening the car door.  I lock the car as soon as I get in.  I only wear one headphone when I go for a walk.  Being married, however, much like being plain or overweight, can provide a somewhat false sense of security.  Knowing that I had a husband at home, or upstairs, or right next to me, reduced the feelings of constant fear that come with being a woman.

I didn’t realize how much less my fear was until that security blanket was gone.

I am planning a couple of road trips, family vacations with me and the boys.  I hesitate.  Is it safe?  Can a woman and her kids travel, stay in a hotel, eat in roadside diners?  I have never had this fear before.  Trey was always with us.

We are home alone every night.  When the neighborhood dogs bark, what are they barking at?  If I hear people talking loudly in the street, should I be afraid?  Should I call 911?  I can’t go and investigate.  I have to sit inside my house and wait for the noises to go away.

I take my dog for walks, and wonder if I should carry pepper spray.  I’ve determined I cannot bring myself to carry a gun.

When my husband died and my fear of being victimized expanded, I realized that men don’t have these fears.  I never thought about it before.  But when I noticed how much my own fears had been dampened just by the presence of a man in my life, when I realized how it becomes almost paralyzing —

How is it that we all are not agoraphobic?

I know lots of single women, and women who travel for work, etc. without an escort.  How do they do it?  How do they overcome the fear and get out there?

Men don’t have this fear, and that blows me away.  With the current dialogue around the #metoo postings, it has become clear that not only do men not have these fears, many of them are not aware of it.  They have no idea that just being a man makes them safe.  That they are so safe compared to us that just having a trusted man in our lives mutes the fear that infuses our every day. How is that possible?

The Fireplace Mantle as a Metaphor

Our mantelpiece had, among other things, a replica of the helmet from Gladiator.  This was not my selection.  I don’t even like that movie.  It also boasted a host of different Buddha statues and Foo Dogs acquired at different China Towns.  I have nothing against these items, but I would not have chosen to decorate with another culture’s aesthetic.  The mantel held a smattering of other items, unrelated to one another.

It sounds hideous, but it did not look bad.  After Trey died, I removed some pieces to pare down the clutter, but I left up the larger decorative items and this was the result:

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See?  Sounds awful and bachelor-y.  It is a bit bachelor-y, but it is not awful.

But it is also not me.

Whenever buying items for our home, I wanted to plan, to get a strategy in place to avoid clashing items and generate a cohesive design.  My desire was to identify a theme and palette that would inform our purchasing decisions.  He, on the other hand, would go to Chinatown or Ikea or Target, see something, buy it, and hang it on the wall.  The result was an interior design that leaned much more toward his aesthetic than it did toward mine.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided all that stuff on the mantel had to go.

In fact, I am redecorating the whole house as time and budget allows.  Again this has been met with alarm by my family.  They think I am purging, but I’m not getting rid of anything. I’m just getting it out of my face.

Here’s the hard truth of the matter.

Trey doesn’t live here anymore.  This is my house now, and I need it to be my house.  

I’m not trying to erase all evidence of him.  I’m not trying to make it look like he never lived here.  This place will always carry his mark.  Our lives and hearts will carry his mark.  No matter where we go or what we do, he will be with us.

That doesn’t change the fact that I need to make this place my own.  It started in the bedroom, and now I am taking over the living room.  I’d like to replace some of the furniture, but, you know, dollar bills.  For now I can re-do the fireplace mantel.

That is the justification.  Now let me tell you what happened.

I took all of his things off the mantel and put them in the guest room closet.  It was then a clean canvas for me to decorate however I wanted.  The problem was that I had absolutely no idea what was I wanted to do.

Isn’t that the shit?  It’s a metaphor for my whole life.  I wrote a post a while back about needing to find myself.  I won’t go into all of that again here, although I could easily write three more entries about that process.  I’ll give you the tl;dr version.  When you’ve been with someone for your entire adult life and suddenly find yourself without that person, you need to put serious time and effort into exploring who you are as an individual.

My mantel looked like this:

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It was a perfect reflection of me.  I had plenty of ideas for what to put there, but didn’t know if I felt passionately about any of them.  I considered gathering my gnomes from around the house.  I thought about arranging a Funko Pop display, or of covering it with family photos or with flowers.  I even considered decorating it with “Architect’y” things like T-Squares and Prismacolor pencils.   It all seemed fine, but didn’t feel quite right.

This is exactly what happens to me when my folks keep the kids overnight and I can do whatever I want for the evening.  I have no idea what to do.  I think about going to a movie, going out to eat, taking a bath and reading, or cleaning the house from top to bottom.  I usually wind up having some edibles and dozing off watching TV.  (Which is a luxury to a single mom of twins, I’m not knocking it.)

Suddenly it hit me.  I would decorate seasonally.  Halloween is coming up, so I present to you my current fireplace mantel design:

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After Halloween, I’ll do a general Autumn theme until after Thanksgiving.  That’s when I’ll pull out the crates and crates of holiday decorations.  After Christmas, I”m not sure — perhaps some general winter display?  Add in some hearts for Valentine’s day, and then after that a spring motif?  My plan is pretty much to hit the seasonal department of the Dollar Store and will decorate with whatever they have.  I may even extend this to include outdoor decorations.  I will be that weird old lady who has yard decorations for Presidents’ Day.

At first I felt like this was a cop-out.  I thought I was delaying making a real decision.

Then I realized this is actually perfect.  Again it is like my life.  I am getting through this one day, one season, one holiday at a time.  I’m not committing to anything, ever.  I’m not looking ahead more than a couple of weeks at any time.

I’m trying different things.  A book club, a board game club, a coffee club.  I’m not any one thing yet.  I’m exploring.  My interior decorations don’t have to be any one thing yet either.  This is me now.

I can always round up the gnomes if I decide to do so.

 

I Guess I Won’t be Wearing my Wedding Ring Anymore

In a sweeping move of what is either irony or kismet, the universe decided I should lose the diamond out of my wedding ring today.

Stoneless
The diamond fell out of my wedding ring

Look at this picture, and realize that this was not just my wedding ring.  That solitaire was my engagement ring.  By which I mean it is the engagement ring he placed on my finger as we were turning eighteen years old.  That stone has endured for 23 years, through two ring re-sizings, through ring welding, through construction sites, through hospital stays, through trips to oceans and lakes and through snowball fights.

Now it decides to give up the ghost?  This is definitely a sign of some sort.

There is no obvious sign of trauma to the ring.  None of the tines are bent into an unnatural position.  None are broken or missing.

As I was driving the kids to school this morning, I glanced at my hand on the steering wheel and the stone was just . . . gone.

Like Trey.  One minute he was here, and I was talking to him on the phone.  Four hours later I get home to find him gone, with no idea when he died or how it happened.  My stone is gone.  I assume I had it yesterday, so it may be in my bedroom having dropped out during the night.  It may have gone down the kitchen drain this morning while I was making breakfast and washing dishes.  It may have plopped to the ground as I carried the trash to the curb.  Maybe I saw it the second it fell out, and the diamond is currently on my car floorboard.  Again, there’s about a four hour window in which it likely happened.

I have performed an initial search, but looking for such a small thing when I don’t know exactly where I lost it has turned out to be challenging.

But at least it is essentially transparent.  That helps.

I have taken a blacklight to the most likely areas.  I have no idea what a diamond would do under a blacklight, but you’d think it would do SOMETHING.

BTW – I highly recommend you do NOT ever randomly search your house with a blacklight.  I’m disgusted and want to move.  And get rid of the pets.  And the kids.  This place is disgusting.

The strange thing is I am not as distraught as I would have expected, considering I was fully planning to wear that ring for the rest of my life.

I was never going to take it off.  I consider myself to still be married.  I think of all those buddy cop movies: “Janet’s been dead for two years, man!  When are you going to take off that ring and move on?”  “Never!  She’s still my wife!”  That was my feeling about it.  I’m still his wife.  I wear the ring.

Now, however, I realize that wearing the ring is not that important to me.  Taking off the ring would have been too difficult.  Removing the ring would have felt like a rejection of our life together.  Putting the ring away would have been closing the door on our marriage.

This is different, though.  I did not decide to move on and remove the ring.  It broke so I put it away.

Surprisingly, my ring is not on the list of things that have grown in importance since Trey’s death.  Our wedding photos and the memories they preserve hold a top spot on the list.  The comic books we waited in line for together, the personalized belts he had made for the kids, the gold chain he wore around his neck, his grandfather’s medals, all of these are on the list of the most important mementos I never want to lose.  The ring is a piece of jewelry.

Now I have a reason to take it off, a reason that is utilitarian and not gut wrenchingly awful, I may leave it off.  It may be okay.  My hand is a wreck.  I think that dent in my finger will remain always.

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Now my left hand looks like this.

Of course, like most things in my life, this is not a permanent choice.  Death is permanent.  The decision of whether to wear a ring is not permanent.  If I go without it for a while and it feels strange, if I feel something is missing, if I feel lonely or sad, I can have the ring repaired.  Obviously I’m not Daddy Warbucks so I won’t be purchasing a random diamond.  I do have some diamond earrings I can probably take the stone from, or I can replace it with zirconia or a semiprecious stone.  It might look pretty with an amethyst.  Or, maybe I can sell those diamond earrings to buy a replacement diamond for the ring.

That probably makes more sense than re-using a diamond and then having one ring and one earring.

But the thing is, even though I was not really ready to remove it, I also do not think I am at a place where I need to go to lengths to preserve it and get it back on my finger.

For right now, however, I suppose I will just see how it goes.

He’s Even Gone From My Pantry

He’s not entirely gone, but he’s going.

Before being widowed, I had some idea of what it would be like if it were to happen.  Am I the only one who indulges in these morbid fantasies?  I don’t think I am, because it happens so often in movies.  Other people must sometimes also think, “what if the unthinkable happens?  What would that be like?”

You know that half of the bed will be empty.

You know his spot on the sofa will be taken over.

You know his chair at the dinner table will go unused.

You know your life will change so dramatically that you won’t be able to understand it.

You don’t know all of the tiny things that will change, reflecting his absence in tiny ways.

I have just today realized that you can see his absence by viewing the contents of our pantry.  Of my pantry.

(This isn’t a euphemism.)

Our pantry used to be full of canned chili.  He loved chili in all of its forms, but I rarely made it so our pantry was stocked with chunky chili, smooth chili, with and without beans, hot and mild.

We also owned an inordinate amount of hot sauce.  And different types of French and Russian salad dressings.  And chips.  There were always corn chips in our pantry.  And candy.  He had a sweet tooth.  We had white bread.

I made Frito Chili Pie last night, with the last of our canned chili.  I donated much of it to a food drive.  I was the only person who ate it.  The kids don’t like chili.  They don’t like chili dogs, or chili on spaghetti.  They just don’t like it.  So all those cans of chili are gone.  Likewise the cans upon cans of different types of beans — maple beans, ranch style beans, baked beans.

I tossed most of the hot sauces.  I’ve gotten old and prone to heartburn.

I made a conscious decision to only buy chips sometimes, to go with a specific meal or event.  I can’t say no to chips, so it’s best they not do the asking.

I did not make a conscious decision to stop buying sweets.  I just never think about it.  The kids have had to ask me to buy candy, or the makings of root beer floats.  Poor guys.

I switched us all to entirely whole wheat bread, and nobody complained.

All those maple beans have been replaced with plain pinto beans, vegetarian refried beans, and garbanzo beans.

The pantry is filling up with whole grains.  Trey and I always did high protein diets together.  He got the best results from them.  Now, however, I am returning to a more plant based diet, and the jars of various grains now replenished in the pantry reflect that.

The French and Russian dressings are gone.  Blech.

There is no Spam.  There is tuna.  There is no ramen.  There is penne.

The fridge is the same.  American cheese has been replaced with provolone.  Steak has been replaced with hamburger.  Heinz ketchup has been replaced with Hunts.  Spicy barbecue sauce has been replaced with the honey variety.

It sounds like small changes, but every time I open the pantry I see his absence.  It does not distress me much, but it serves as a reminder with every meal that the whole of our life is changed.

Sick Kids and the Widow

This is more of a general parenting rant than a widow rant.  It is true, however, that I am not just a widow.  It is also true that this situation is complicated by my new status as a single parent.

My kids are sick, and so am I.

First K got sick, over the weekend.  He was worst on Saturday and a bit better on Sunday.  I planned to send the kids to school Monday, but he had been up hacking and coughing most of the night.  Plus his brother seemed to be getting sick so I kept them both home for an extra day of rest.

By “rest,” I mean “almost twelve straight hours of Minecraft while I try to work and to recover the house from all the birthday mess.”

I told them they were definitely going to school today.

Then at midnight last night, H woke up crying and screaming because his nose was so stuffy he couldn’t breathe and his throat hurt so bad when he coughed.  He came to my bed.

This morning I woke to the sound of him still snuffling uncomfortably, miserably fighting to stay asleep.  I was also snuffly and felt like my head could explode at any minute.  I knew K was well enough to go to school, but . . .

I didn’t want to pull H out of bed to get dressed and get in the car so we could take K to school.  This is where single parenting comes in.  When Trey was alive, one of us would have stayed home while the other dropped K off at school.  Now, I did think of calling my folks to come and stay with H while he slept.

But here’s the thing about help from others:  you need so much of it, when you’re widowed, when you’re unexpectedly single.  Every day it seems I’m asking my parents for help.  So when you can get by without asking for yet another thing, you try.

Plus I did not particularly feel like getting up either.

I had this wild parent fantasy that if I called both kids out sick that we would snuggle up in the bed together, sleep until ten, then move to the sofa downstairs with a box of kleenex, some blankets and Netflix.  So I called both boys out sick.

What was I thinking?!?!?  Am I a total noob at this parenting thing?

H was already up and out of bed by the time I finished calling the school.  He is definitely sick and I’m glad I kept him home, but if he was going to get out of bed anyway I would have brought K to school.  I thought about hauling them all out to the car right then, but by that point it was getting pretty late and would have been a rush.

So we stayed home.  One perfectly healthy kid and his sick and cranky (but not sleepy) brother.  Plus their sick mom.

I have elected to not keep alcohol in the house since Trey died, mainly because I find it difficult to resist a nightcap, and then I get all sad about drinking alone.  But after the kids’ party I got a bottle of bourbon.  So it’s sitting on the shelf, and I keep thinking of it longingly.  My head is pounding.  My eyeballs feel like there is sand in them.  My nose and eyes are leaking nonstop.  I want to wrap up in a blanket, sip some warm bourbon, and binge watch Supernatural.  Or at least to wrap up in a blanket with my kids, sip some orange juice and binge watch something of their choosing.

Instead I’m making lunch, fetching juice, refereeing arguments, putting away groceries, feeding the dog, doing laundry, and trying to put in a solid half day of work.

It’s such a cliche.  When everyone is sick, mom takes care of them.  When mom is sick, she still takes care of everyone else.  Granted, I’m doing it in a very minimal fashion.  So far today the kids have watched Captain Underpants and about a hundred episodes of the Thundermans, and have been on their tablets for about an hour now with half an hour left to go.

I’d better get to work!

Birthday Party – I laughed, I cried. In front of the other moms.

My boys turned eight years old a couple of weeks ago.  This month has been a bit of a roller coaster, as I suppose you would expect.  Their first day of school also happened this month, and I haven’t yet had the stones to write about it.

Here it comes.  This post will most likely be too long to read, and will encompass the start of school as well as our Month Long Birthday EXTRAVAGANZA!  Are you in it with me?  Here we go.

At the end of school last year, I was so excited for summer to begin.  I thought that once I was freed from the daily grind of mornings and lunches and rides to and from school, I would be able to take control of my life and of my schedule.  I would be able to get more work done, take care of the house better, and of course spend more time with my kids.

I don’t have to tell you it does NOT work that way.  I must have been suffering from some sort of temporary insanity caused by wishful thinking.

It was a wonderful summer, full of late mornings watching Teen Titans Go in bed together, late nights playing XBox and two family trips.  It was much needed, but it was not particularly productive.  So as school approached, I was glad.  I was not glad in the traditional wine-drinking mom “yippee the kids will be out of my hair and occupied for part of the day” kind of way.  I was glad because once again, possibly delusional again, I believe this is when I will be able to take charge of our household schedule.

In the days leading up to the first day of school, I went on a special one-on-one outing with each of the kids.  I bought back to school clothes and shoes (I pre-ordered the supplies from the PTA last year.)  I bought Starbucks cards for the kids’ teachers, and wrote each one an introductory email explaining that my boys have therapy once a week and if the time does not work for their class schedule to let me know, and also to let me know if they notice any behavior in class that I should have the therapists address.  The teachers, of course, know that my husband died last February.  I set up schedules for homework and nighttime and morning routines.  I set up a new chore chart and star chart.  I stocked the fridge with school lunch items, bought new backpacks and lunches, and ordered new coats and jackets.  I did this all on my own.

Honestly, it’s not that different.  Trey  was not much of a ‘planner’ or ‘preparer’ (except for his disaster prepping – eyeroll.)  I would have taken care of most of this on my own even if he were still alive.  I felt good.  I felt optimistic for the school year and confident of my ability to make this work.  I took the kids to school the first day, using our schedule and star chart.  We did not have to rush or scramble, and we were not up against the tardy bell.  After school I picked them up.  They hung up their backpacks and helped unload the dishwasher to earn tablet time.  I started cooking dinner.

Then I was punched in the stomach.

This routine we are setting up — it doesn’t include Trey.  He’s not just gone now or for this first day of school.  He is going to be gone for all of the days of school.  There is no bargaining for who will be making dinner.  There is no talking each other into or out of ordering a pizza.  This is it.  This is my routine every night.  Helping the kids with homework, making dinner, washing dishes.  Alone.  This is it.

So then I’m crying by the sink again, which for a short while was no longer my favorite hobby.

Three days after the first day of school came the boys’ birthday.  For the first year ever, I managed to talk them into having their party a couple of weeks later.  I couldn’t figure how to get invitations out in time to have a party right after the start of school, and I didn’t think anyone would be up for attending a party at that time.  But I did want to mark their actual birthday.  At first we were going to meet the grandparents for some free Denny’s birthday goodness.  But naturally I am overcompensating for their dad being gone so instead we went on a Pirate Cruise.

Because what says, “I’m sorry we are having your birthday without your father being in the world” like a pirate cruise?

We went with my parents.  It was a lot of fun and I only cried a bit later that night.

The next weekend, we went to visit my uncle who lives about three hours away.  His town has a fair and rodeo, and we go every year to see him and attend the fair.  This year was weird without Trey.  It was weird largely because it was kind of nice.  Bless his heart, he really tried to be a good sport about it, and he never said this out loud, but I have been going to fairs with him for years and the truth is: he hates fairs.  Hated fairs, I mean.  In past years, the kids would go up with my folks, and then Trey and I would join the next day, close to the end of the day so we could spend an hour at the fair.  He hated the walking and the smells and how much everything costed.  I love the ridiculous food, the pig races, the world’s largest whatever.  So going to the fair without him was kind of nice in a way.  I went when my folks did, and spent the entire day with the kids getting their faces painted and spending too much money on bounce houses and unwinnable games.

And then K decided he wanted to go on a ride called the Storm Trooper.  I thought he would be too scared, and didn’t want to let him do it.  Something I always tell myself, however, is to not let fear keep you from doing things.  So I let him go.  I’m too fat to ride those rides so my mom rode with him.  He loved it.  I could see him scared at first, and then laughing and loving it the whole time.  I was so glad I let him go, and I was so horribly sad that Trey wasn’t there to see it.

I didn’t cry.

This weekend was their birthday party.  We did bubble soccer, something we did a couple of years ago and it was a big hit.  The kids wanted Minecraft themed cakes and decorations, and then had extremely specific requests for their cakes.

Now, I bake exactly once a year — on the birthday.  I still remember cakes that my mom made for me, so it is important to me that I make the cakes for my kids’ birthday.  I reserved the bubble soccer place a month ahead of time.  I started baking a week ahead of time.  I burned up the Pinterest boards making cakes and cupcakes and decorations.  This was going to be the best birthday ever.

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Today we arrived, and it went well at first.  But, see, K has been sick for a couple of days now.  He hasn’t had a fever, but he hasn’t felt well.  He’s had a runny nose and he fell asleep yesterday afternoon.  I thought about postponing, but for a multitude of reasons decided not to do that.  (I did warn the other parents, in case they wanted to stay away from the germs.)

So when he fell down early on and twisted his ankle, he was already feeling kind of cranky and this just ended it for him.  He tried to stay in the fun, but he was pretty much a little ball of screaming crying anger.  Normally when he gets like this, he just needs some time alone but I could not figure out how to give that to him in this case.  I took him to the room where the cakes were set up.  That’s when he unleashed on me:

“This is the worst birthday ever!”

“We’ve had seven birthdays and this is the only one that is terrible!”

“This is a waste of a whole birthday! I won’t have another for an entire year!”

I know he’s a kid and kids lash out, but I was already fragile and I just crumpled.  I kept my cool, told him I was going outside for a bit and asked if he needed me to get anything before I left.  He said he wanted to lay down in the car for a while, and I thought, well duh that’s a great idea.  I can’t believe that didn’t occur to me.

This is when my dad stepped in.  Seeing my barely controlled anguish, he offered to take K to his car to lay down and have some cooldown time.  I gratefully accepted his offer, and found a quiet corner of the building in which to have a complete breakdown.

I went outside and sobbed.  I wanted so much for this birthday to be amazing and wonderful and special, and somehow I had managed to ruin it for him.  He would always remember this first birthday as being terrible and I couldn’t do anything to fix it.  He was hurting and it made me hurt and I couldn’t handle it.  So I let myself cry for just a couple of minutes, then pulled myself together (I thought) and went back in.

One of the other moms — one who knows I’m recently widowed — was in the lobby on the phone.  She saw my face.

I guess I wasn’t as stealth as I thought I was.

She immediatly hung up, stood up, and hugged me.  “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you.”  I started crying again.  I couldn’t think of anything to say.  I just cried.

I pulled myself together again – or so I thought.

We went back inside, where my other boy was having a grand time.  One of the other moms there is also a widow — she’s just over two years out.  She saw me and immediately asked if I was okay.

I started to say yes, I’m fine.

We all do that.  We all say we are fine.

WE ARE NOT FINE.  WE ARE NOT OKAY.  NOTHING IS FINE.  “Fine” just means “I managed to generally function like a human being today, despite this pervasive wrongness that I carry.”

I didn’t say I was fine.  I looked at her, she had asked if I was okay, and I said, “No.”

She said, “Of course you’re not.”

More hugging.

More crying.

So now I’m just openly widow-crying in front of everyone.  All this work to make it seem like we are moving forward okay and that we are doing “as well as can be expected” is gone.  I’m a blubbering widow-y mess.

I did manage to pull myself together in time to call the kids to the party room for pizza and cake.  K came in, refreshed from his time alone, and was able to laugh and play and have fun for the rest of the party.  Everyone said it was a huge success, and I’m glad everyone had a good time.  I’m especially glad that K was able to reign it in and have fun for the second half.  I’m super proud of him.  That’s not easy to do.

I had fun, too.  I talked with the other moms about chore charts and allowances.  It was good.

Now I’m sitting at my computer bawling.  I had Amazon Now deliver a small bottle of bourbon and I’m quickly getting blotto and am about to watch Donnie Darko.

Thank you for listening.

Sad Lonely Women’s Club

I would like to address the events of today.  It was a rough one for me.

At some point I will address the events of last week, which included the kids’ first day of school as well as their eighth birthday.  I cannot bring myself to write about that yet.  Suffice it to say that the first day of school was more difficult for me than their birthday was, but that both events were so much harder than I anticipated.

I can’t.

So let’s talk about today.  What led to today?  Well, I am seeing a counselor to help deal with my husband’s death and to help deal with suddenly being a single mom, which is the larger issue in a lot of ways.

I have been to counselors before, sometimes to address my own issues and others to address problems in our marriage.  Have I given the impression it was all sunshine and roses?  It wasn’t.  We loved each other and he was my best friend and I miss him terribly, but we had pretty serious problems off and on.  I believed, and still do, that it was a testament to our love and friendship that we worked so hard through some extremely difficult stumbling blocks.

I’m not here to talk about our marriage.  I mention this only to say that every counselor I have ever had, for any reason, starting in high school, has said that I need to make some friends.  They said I needed friends with whom I could spend time after school or work.  They said I needed friends separate from my husband’s friends.  They said I needed friends separate from my work acquaintances, separate from the other Moms.  That I needed a network of support that was not a part of my role as Architect, Wife, and Mother.  I needed friends who were not Trey’s wife’s friends.  I needed friends who were not H&K’s mom’s friend.  I needed friends who were Racheal’s friends.

I am not skilled at socializing, and Trey and I became pretty codependent, happy to do things with just each other.  For a time I did roller derby.  I’ve been members of various book clubs.  I think I was a charter member of meetup.com.  None of them really stick for very long, and I have been unable to form any kind of lasting relationship out of any of those activities.  When we moved to Washington, I had a reasonably strong position within the social circle of a group of moms that all had kids the same age.  That went away as soon as we moved, obviously.  Since we have lived here, I have met some of the other moms but don’t feel solidly within the social circle.

Then Trey died, and I quit my traditional workplace job and now work from home.  I have nobody.  Nobody to spend time with who will talk about something that is not Minecraft.  Nobody to see movies with.  Nobody to watch Supernatural with.  Nobody to drive on a road trip.  Nobody to complain to that I have nobody.  I have had almost no interactions with other adults, except for with my counselor.  I have had quite a bit of support from some circles.  Another mom has had me over to their house a couple of times, and my neighbors came by to play board games once.  But overall it’s intensely lonely being me right now.  I normally thrive on being alone, but this is too much.  Especially considering that I’m trying to find myself in the world.

This brings me to today.  Today I went to meet with some ladies for coffee.  I found these ladies through a Facebook group.  The group is made up of women in my age range who like to get together and have coffee.  Sounds nice.

It was the saddest most depressing event EVER!  Nothing against the women.  They were all super nice.  But none of us have anything in common.  I was the newcomer in the group, but even among the women who had been meeting up for a while there appeared to be no real connection.  It wasn’t a group of friends who liked to get together.  It was a group of women who have no friends getting together to keep from going crazy.  Just by demeanor, I would say at least two of the other women were also there because their counselor or someone told them that they needed social interaction.  We made small talk about families and friends who were in the hurricane path, but I didn’t get the impression that any of these women would call any of the other if they needed extra emotional support.  I looked at these sad lonely women and thought, wow.  These are my people.  A group of women approaching and breaching “the Hill” who were either divorced or had husbands that worked a lot and needed a reason to get out and get dressed.  That’s me.  I don’t want to be a part of this group.

I DO NOT WANT TO BE A PART OF THIS GROUP!

I don’t want to meet for coffee with other lonely women, making small talk to cover the fact that if I wasn’t there that I’d be sitting in silence at home.  It’s too awful.  I don’t want to do it.

So that happened.

Then, to top it off, today is my kids’ counseling day.  On these days I pick them up after recess.  While I was waiting for them, the principal approached me and said H’s teacher is concerned because he refuses to participate in class.  She knows the story and all so she know he’s not just being a dick.  But she doesn’t know how to handle it.

And neither do I.

I asked the counselor if we should back off of him — it worked when he didn’t want to learn to swim.  Everyone pretended not to see him practicing swimming, and not to notice that he was getting in the pool after adamantly yelling that he did not want to swim.  With the pressure off, he started learning.

The counselor said that doesn’t work here.  We have to keep pushing him to participate, or he will withdraw more and more.  We’re not talking about public speaking here.  We are talking about in the morning every kid is supposed to turn to the kids on either side of them and say good morning.  This is the level of withdrawn he is.  At counseling, he frequently does not even talk to the counselor except to say that he is bored.  She is being kindly persistent and has instructed me to do the same.

But it hurts so much.  Why is he withdrawing so hard?  What do I do about it?

So to sum up, my kid is sliding down a slope that looks like it will end in his refusal to speak to anyone except for me.  I tried to be social and instead just felt worse.

This sucks.

 

 

Battle Bots of Love

The kids’ birthday is coming up so naturally I’m pushing forward as if everything is normal, you know, calling twelve different venues to find a place to have the party and Pinterest-ing like crazy for cake and decoration ideas.

Then I am punched in the stomach.

Last year we held the birthday at a robotics place called Robot Roundabout.  It was awesome.  They had a lot of different kinds of robots to play with, but the big attraction was the Battle Bot cage.

Inside the little arena are two bots.  Each bot has a spike on the front and balloon on the back.  I’m sure you can do the math on that one.  Well, the second Trey and I saw that, we were like, “You and me, bud!  As soon as these kids have all had a turn, you are going down!”

Sure enough once the kids had all had a turn and were happily eating pizza and cake, Trey and I raced to the Battle Arena.  The guy running the place was thrilled.  We battled and hollered and smack talked and the kids cheered and then my balloon got punctured.  But it was a slow leak!  The judge’s determination was that I was still in play until it fully deflated.  I chased Trey around and popped his balloon before mine ran out of air and I whooped and did a victory dance and it was so awesome.

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Trey and Korben Battle Bots for H&K’s Seventh Birthday at Robot Roundabout

Afterward the guy who runs the place said that he always asks the parents to have a go at the battle bots because it’s fun for the birthday kids to see his parents battle.  He said that he usually has to work to talk them into it, and we were the first couple he’d ever seen that ran over to it and wanted to play and had so much fun.

We were so confused.  How could anybody not want immediately to kick their significant other’s ass at battle bots?  We told him that if he would let us, we’d kick all those kids out of there and just play the two of us for the next hour.  Who wouldn’t want to play robots with their best friend?

Do you see why I’m bawling?

Erasing the Evidence of Him

When Trey died, I almost immediately started going through and getting rid of things.  My mother was alarmed, and other people also would caution me to not be in a big hurry.  Those who love me thought I was going through some sort of emotional purge that I would regret — that having his things around was painful so I was trying to erase him.

They needn’t have been concerned.  That’s not what I was doing.  Trey and I have always had an over abundance of clutter.  I like to keep things for sentimental reasons, and he liked to keep things in case we need them again.  This resulted in boxes of items we promised each other we’d go through.  After he died, I needed space to breathe.  I needed some of the clutter to go away.  I no longer needed to confer with someone else.  I got rid of things.

The items I got rid of mainly consisted of clothes and work related papers and books.  I also got rid of his stash of outdated routers, that big box of tangled wires with which he refused to part, and one of the three sets of kitchen knives we had.  I didn’t get rid of anything sentimental and if I had any question about whether to keep something, I kept it.

Later I spoke with another widow, one who is farther along the path.  She said that she went through the same thing — an initial purge that worried other people.  She did not regret anything, and neither do I.  She wisely told me that I would hold on to some things that I know I will not keep forever, but that I am not ready to give up yet.

Last week, for example, I got rid of that hideous ginormous Scarface picture.  Trey bought it when we moved to LA, after he had relocated but before I had a chance to join him.  I always hated the picture.  Ugh.  After a couple of moves, I was able to get it located in our bedroom instead of in our living room.  Once Trey died, I looked at that ridiculous picture hanging above our bed and thought, “Nope. Not yet.  I’m keeping that awful thing.  He loved it, and he loved how much I hated it.  It stays for now.”  Then suddenly last week I was ready to get rid of it.  So I put it up for free on Letgo and now it is some other wife’s problem.

To put it more briefly, I am not conflicted about getting rid of Trey’s things.  I have confidence in my ability to determine what I am ready to let go and what needs to stay.

What I am conflicted about, apparently, is redecorating.

I need to do it.  I need to make my home my own.  I have a serious need to claim my space.

It started in the bedroom.  I replaced our burgundy sateen sheets and zebra print fuzzy comforter with some almond colored cotton sheets, a warm soft blanket, and earth toned striped bedspread.  I removed his clutter from the shelves and bedside table.  I planned to make the room my safe haven spot, just for me.

My plan was puny, as the kids have not slept in their own rooms more than ten times since Trey’s death.  Far from being a quiet haven, my bedroom is constantly full of kids and pets and noise.  It is still nice, however, to walk into my room decorated as I like it.  It feels open and freeing.  I can breathe in there.

Now I am looking at painting our living room.   As part of this, I will take down the Seattle skyline sofa picture that Trey got at Ikea.  Will I put it back up?  Probably not.  What about the Gladiator helmet and Buddha statues on the mantel?  I will replace them with something more my style.  I have already replaced the crystal decanter and glasses on the side table with books.

More and more this place feels like my home — not ours.  The transformation feels necessary and right to me.  This home was ours, and the furniture and decorations demonstrate the sometimes incongruous blend of our tastes.  Now, however, I need my home to be mine.

This does not mean erasing all evidence of Trey.  I’m not boxing up every single thing he purchased and pretending he never existed.  I am not trying to remove all the reminders of him, although I think people may view it as that.  I expect more concerned questions.   It would be impossible to remove the reminders of him even if I wanted to do so.  He is not in the mantel decorations or the red sofa.  He is in the yard he was teaching the kids to mow.  He is in the fruit trees we planted as a family.  I see the stairs, and I see him lumbering down them in the morning.  I sit at our dining table and I see his spot empty.  I see him when we play Monopoly with three instead of four.  I see him in the lightswitch he repaired, in the thermostat he installed, in the light bulbs we took half a day to decide upon.  He is here.  He will always be here.  He will not be removed, and I would not want to remove him.

It is true, however, that this will no longer look like his home.

How do I feel about that?  Guilty.

Like I said, I know this is necessary for me.  I need to claim this space as I am claiming my life.

But the other day I dreamed that someone forced me to get on an airplane and leave my wedding dress behind.  I think that’s a pretty clear message about how I am feeling about this.

This is so hard.